From my earliest childhood, I loved to read. My favorite memories are of sitting in some dark, snug corner, straining my eyes, losing myself in a reality very different from my own. Any book, comic, pamphlet, magazine – anything with words or pictures (or both) – was fair game.
I don’t know how old I was when I first discovered Mark Twain. It was love at first sight. Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn became my favorite people in the entire world. I loved the mischief, the humor, the danger, the exotic atmosphere of the land that I knew nothing about. I loved the English names of the people and curious words like Mississippi and Missouri. I loved the sense of adventure.
Years passed. My parents, sister and I traveled to the US and I went to college in New York City. I moved on to other writers and other worlds. I hardly thought of Mark Twin in those days.
But during my senior year of college, while deciding where to go to graduate school, a professor suggested St. Louis, Missouri. And that word, Missouri, brought with it a flood of memory. I applied, was accepted and got a scholarship. All the stars were aligned just right for me to travel westward, and I decided to get my degree there and then move back to Yugoslavia.
The first month in St. Louis I met a young man named Jeff. We went to movies, theater and poetry readings. We talked about philosophy and argued about Nietzsche and Heidegger for hours.
But the way he won my heart was by suggesting, on a whim of a moment, in a middle of an ordinary school day, that I miss my Milton class and that we drive the couple of hours to Hannibal, Missouri. This is the town where Mark Twain lived as a boy and where he set two of his most famous books.
Jeff had a very old, ugly and beat up yellow car that he called – the frog. We drove the frog down the banks of the Mississippi and I looked out in wonder. Here I was and this world was real. Mississippi. We walked all over the small town of Hannibal and it seemed frozen in time. It was touristy, and tacky, but I loved it. The old houses were small, the rooms miniature and childlike – fitting for memories of a young girl. We ate fried trout at the Becky Thatcher diner. We had ice cream in the Tom Sawyer ice cream parlor.
I never made it back to Yugoslavia.